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Christina Vuleta Headshot

40:20 Vision: How Yoga Taught Me the True Meaning of Growing Up

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I went to yoga last night. I don't "practice" yoga regularly, but I would like to some day. I heard that Russell Simmons yelled out in a yoga class, "You are the age you start doing yoga." It may be an urban myth, but there is something motivating about it.

Last night I realized that it's only now that I can enjoy yoga every now and then without feeling pressure to do it "right." It got me thinking that yoga is truly a metaphor for getting older. As you age, you stop caring what other people think. You just do. It happens. I have learned over my sporadic practice that yoga is also about not comparing yourself to others. It's being completely present with where you are and realizing that it's not always a linear path. The minute you start thinking about how you aren't doing the tree stand as well as the model-like figure next to you... you have lost the plot.

At one point in my early 30s I decided to do yoga every day for a month to improve my flexibility. I have never been more frustrated. One day I would be more flexible and the next day I would be back to square one, or even worse. How could that be? And then there were my warrior poses. Why couldn't I do them the same way as the instructor? No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get my foot to turn one way and my hips to turn another.

I also felt like a fraud saying the "oms," as if somehow I hadn't earned the right. I thought I should understand the deeper meaning rather than simply revel in being a part of the collective chant without worrying about how it made it me look (e.g., stupid and worrying about whether I was using the right tone).

Headstands gave me a fright. How is my head going to take all of that weight? What if I was the one that finally did get up only to tumble loudly to the ground? At the end of class I felt that I failed "Savasana" -- the last 5-10 minutes of class where you rest in "corpse pose" and don't think about anything. Time and time again my mind wandered to selfish pursuits. What would I have for dinner? What about that work issue? Where was my boyfriend? (I didn't have one at the time.)

I gave up that yoga experiment before the month came to a close. Every day became an opportunity to beat myself up. Now, I can see how very much I did not get the point. Now I can appreciate a yoga class as a chance to treat myself... to give myself a massage. Whereas before it was a waste of time unless it was a calorie-burning intensive adventure (which meant 90 minute, sweat-inducing, 100 pose competition or nothing). Now I can accept that I can go at my own pace and that of course my body isn't the same as anyone else's body -- and that is not a bad thing. It's more of a practice with yourself. A pose is not about posing.

Someday I will do it more regularly and challenge myself to master that headstand. For now I can enjoy the breathing and stretching my body and its limits without beating it, or myself, up. I imagine if I had realized some of this earlier I might have paid more attention to what felt good in my life and where there was tension. Maybe I would have stopped forcing myself into uncomfortable positions because that is what I thought life should look like and found my own center of gravity.

We never stop comparing ourselves completely, but one thing I've found from my research for 40:20 Vision is that many 40-somethings wish they had spent more time in their 20s and 30s celebrating what they had rather than obsessing over what they didn't have. It's amazing how much more flexible you can be when you stop judging yourself. That's when you can truly stretch yourself. I guess that makes my mantra... "You are the age you stop comparing yourself to others!"

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